Arsenal: Title contenders or title pretenders?
Could this really be Arsenal’s year? This question is asked every year and the outcome is always the same. That seemed to be the case again this year after the Gunners were outclassed and outplayed against United back in January when they were beaten 3-1. Back then, plenty of critics, including me, had dismissed any chance of them winning the league.
However, Arsenal are not out of it. Suddenly, they find themselves level on points with Chelsea (Blues having played a game less) and just two behind Mnachester United. And Arsenal have by far the easiest run-in. I still (obviously) view United as favourites, but it is hard to see Arsenal dropping too many points now, especially because they no longer have to face any of the ‘big four’ this season. They prosper against the lesser teams, but falter against the better sides.
Looking at their remaining fixtures, only Manchester City and Tottenham may provide tough tests but their record against the latter is impressive, regardless of playing home or away. You’d also expect them to ease past the likes of Wigan and Hull. United’s run-in includes their noisy neighbours, Liverpool and Chelsea. However, and encouragingly so, the other six games I expect United to prevail.
What is also vital for Arsenal is keeping their players fit. Cesc Fabregas is the key to their title bid – and his latest setback could prove costly. He is set to miss the Porto game on Tuesday, but it is crucial that he stays fit for the rest of the season. The Spaniard is right up there with the best in the country, a quality player who the north London club can’t afford to lose but with the lack of silverware at the club in recent years, a move away from the club could still happen in the near future. He is Arsenal’s top goalscorer with 14, and has the most assists in the league with 15. Those are some devastating stats, as that combined is 29 goals. Wayne Rooney is second with 27 (23 goals and 4 assists).
Robin van Persie is due to return next month, and how important will that be for the club considering the inconsistencies with both Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner. The latter is a good player, not great, as we saw on Saturday when he missed a host of chances against Burnley.
Even if they had all their players fit, could Arsenal really end their trophy-drought? Like we’ve seen year after year, the league title is too big an ask for the Gunners. In contrast, we’ve seen Manchester United overcome such pressure and there’s no team better nor is there a manager better for this type of situation. I believe the Gunners are serious contenders – rather than pretenders – but can they finally end their trophy-drought with a Premier League title this year?